Steering committee identifies first steps
Last month, members from Providence and Wesley Chapel’s volunteer fire departments met as a steering committee for the first time to discuss details of a potential merger.
The group decided on three next steps, according to a memo written by Providence Board of Directors President Steve Cloutier to Weddington Town Administrator/Clerk Amy McCollum.
The steering committee recognizes the importance of polling firefighters for both departments to gauge their support for a merger, according to the memo, which McCollum read to town council members Monday, Feb. l4.
Likewise, the group wants to meet with both boards.
“We felt it was important to take the question of a merger back to our membership as we continue discussions going forward,” Cloutier explained to Union County Weekly.
Lastly, Cloutier’s memo said the Wesley Chapel department needs to ask residents of the fire district if they’re willing to pay more for fire services.
The county’s 2010 Fire Study called for a merger of the two departments, although it did not dictate the terms of the merger or how the district should be re-aligned. Weddington, a proponent of a merger, pays more than $200,000 to the Providence department annually and became concerned when the department began running budget deficits last fall.
Weddington officials are concerned about the department’s ability to survive on its own. Although the town has stepped away from the process and left merger discussions in the hands of the steering committee and fire chiefs, the Providence department still provides reports to the town.
According to Cloutier’s memo, steering committee members plan to meet with firefighters and the department’s boards immediately.
“Residents will be involved in the process down the road, after we get a consensus from our individual memberships,” Cloutier said.
Wesley Chapel operates on a fire tax, while Providence charges a fire fee. Although fire fees may likely become a thing of the past given the recent support in both the North Carolina House and Senate to repeal them, if Wesley Chapel absorbs the Providence VFD, the fire tax rate will likely need to increase.
The extra funds will support the costs of extra firefighters and pay for needed repair work to Providence equipment and its 25-year-old station.
At the Weddington council’s meeting, Councilman Werner Thomisser echoed the sentiments of several members who want to see concrete plans for gaining consensus. “I wonder if residents outside of Wesley Chapel will be included in these discussions,” Thomisser said.
The steering committee next meets again in April.